Friday, August 3, 2007


By Samir Gambhir, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

A friend of mine who is white, works in the field of the social sciences and is a GIS professional, confided in me about a big ‘mistake’ he made while displaying race data in a map. He had represented the African American population in the map with the color black and the white population with the color white. He was concerned that he might be perceived as a racist.

This led me to think of the many ways racism plays out in this country. How hypocritical is it to refer to African Americans as ‘Blacks’, but have reservations on representing data likewise? What is the bigger question here – being a racist or being perceived as one?

For decades, issues of race and racism have dominated the social, judicial, and executive arena in this country. The general public, advocates, scholars, researchers and lawmakers have engaged themselves in these discussions, but serious issues still remain to be resolved; there are simmering prejudices still lingering in the subconscious minds of people. Though overt racism has subsided with increased awareness and legal controls, covert racism exists and manifests itself in different forms.

My friend was addressing this issue superficially. I know him well enough to say that he has no racist agenda, overt or covert, but it brings out the sensitivity of the issue. It seems that people are scared of being perceived as a racist, thus portraying oneself as being race-neutral is an absolute must. It makes me wonder if people are only trying to deal with the issue superficially or if the heightened awareness around this issue is transforming their beliefs and attitudes deep within?

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